Kagame’s stance on corruption – Part 2

Rwandan President, Paul Kagame

We have to set our sights high. It is not enough to “fight corruption”, just as merely “fighting poverty” is too small an ambition for Africa.

Our liberation struggle in Rwanda, and in Africa more generally, has always been based on the ideals of eliminating discrimination, entrenching good governance, and ensuring all citizens benefit equally from nation-building.

As a new government, the turning point in Rwanda’s peace-building process came after months of intense national consultations.

Out of this dialogue, key institutions were created to foster transparency and lay the foundation for a sound national fiscal base.

These included the Rwanda Revenue Authority, the Auditor General, the Ombudsman, as well as home-grown solutions such as performance contracts signed by officials at every level, known as “imihigo”.

We quickly found out that fighting corruption has a huge political cost.

This is one of the things I was referring to when I spoke about the book.

Officials who did not live up to the agreed standards were dismissed or brought to justice. Others fled into exile and pretended to be so-called “opposition” or “pro-democracy” groups.

I’ll give you a specific example here. After the Genocide, the first foreign minister appointed at the time connived with other leaders within our cabinet, particularly the then Prime Minister, and was given money, hundreds of dollars in cash, to go abroad and reopen our embassies, or open new embassies. This guy never came back.

He had been in office for only a couple of months. And this was the first transition government. Today, he is one of the opposition leaders living in France. And people accept that this is a man fighting for democracy. Where he is hosted, they believe it, some groups believe this.

He is not the only one, because a couple of years later the same Prime Minister who he connived with, agreed with the then President of the Transition Government, and was given some money to go buy vehicles, Mercedes-Benz, for members of cabinet.

When I learned about this I went to my President at the time and told him that we were making a mistake, our first priority shouldn’t be buying Mercedes-Benz for our ministers.

You can imagine in 1998, four years after the Genocide, we were trying to build institutions, do a number of things and the first thing that came to the minds of our leaders was to buy Mercedes-Benz for our ministers. These were ministers who had no offices, no office buildings, no furniture, nothing…

I told the President that I thought it was wrong, we could afford to prioritise that sort of thing. Second, have money given again to one of us, the other one went and never came back. Now this one was taking even more money. I said we couldn’t keep doing this kind of thing unless we wanted to be doomed, never to leave the transition.

So that is the cost. You risk many things, this bad name, this same so-called opposition has turned us into what they call “authoritarian”. We are authoritarian because we didn’t allow them to take this money and when they did, they didn’t come back and had to find an explanation.

But between fighting corruption and being authoritarian, I prefer being authoritarian.
Some thought we could not afford to take this zero-tolerance approach, given the fragility of our environment.

The truth, however, is that we couldn’t afford not to do it.

It is the foundation of the modest progress for which Rwandans continue to work.

Everywhere, trust in democratic processes is declining, leaving a cynical citizenry that is easily manipulated by the politics of division.

Fighting political corruption is therefore just as urgent as fighting economic corruption.

And the strategy for doing so is the same: Building on Africa’s cultural heritage to cultivate the mindsets of responsibility, accountability, and effectiveness in our leaders, and especially in our young people, as we continue to build the institutions that will serve this cause.

Before I conclude, I wish to give our very warm congratulations for President Buhari on his re-election, and best wishes for the entire Nigerian people on the road ahead. I also want to mention here that President Buhari is our AU Champion in the fight against corruption and we thank you for your service.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention, and I wish you fruitful deliberations today.

•President Kagame of Rwanda made these remarks at the National Democracy Day Anti-Corruption Summit in Abuja.

In this article:
Paul Kagame
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